It’s a little known fact outside the collector’s world that the Hawaiian Islands had their own coinage. Five official coins were issued for the Kingdom of Hawai’i before it became a territory of the United States. All of these Silver pieces were designed by Charles Barber and were minted in San Francisco. Serving as legal tender in Hawai’i, Hawaiian coinage includes the 1847 cent issued by King Kamehameha III and the 1883 silver dimes, quarters, halves and dollars, which bare the portrait of King Kalakaua.The element that makes these coins so collectible can be found in their uniquity. After Hawai’i became a United States territory in 1900 these coins were no longer accepted as legal tender and lost their initial value. At that time, most of these coins were withdrawn and melted down. As a result, they are more rare and of higher value.
Aside from their limited number, they are unique in the many hands they passed through during a specific time and locale in history. Initially 100,000 of these Hawaiian coins were issued and were used for the remainder of the century alongside a plethora of foreign coins circulated through plantation work and trade. Because the Hawaiian Kingdom did not have the means necessary to mint their own coins, commerce relied on a medley of currency from Spanish American colonies, Asia and the United States. Alongside foreign coins, plantations such as Wailuku, Thomas Horton, Waterhouse and Haiku distributed tokens to serve as minor coinage.Each of the coins might have been the daily bread of a migrant plantation worker or a means of cultural trade. Even today Hawai’i is referred to as a “melting pot”. It’s fascinating that from the beginnings of currency and language, Hawai’i has demonstrated a blending of cultures which can be seen through their limited currency and the story each coin tells.